Am I a Victim?
AM I A VICTIM?
You might have heard about a mindset where people are being told to “stop being/feeling/acting the victim” and everything will be fine. This can be called a “victim mentality” which means that someone is seen as habitually casting themselves as a victim of adverse situations. Sometimes, this goes along with an allegation that people with a “victim mentality” are exercising a choice to remain stuck in this view of themselves and the world and refuse to “step out of it and help themselves”.
Let’s look at this for a moment.
WHAT IS A VICTIM?
The Marriam-Webster Dictionary states: “One that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent.”
I go along with Marriam-Webster and think that a victim has been harmed by a greater force, be it through a physical injury in a car crash or an illness we cannot control or through adverse conditions like domestic violence. The emphasis is on a greater force than myself. In its definiton, Merriam-Webster includes “one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment” as well as “one that is tricked or duped”.
I don’t think there would be many people who would argue with the right of survivors of childhood sexual abuse to feel victimised.
There also is less obvious abuse which leads to feelings of having been victimised, for example emotional or psychological abuse such as coercive relationships or a child growing up with her/his needs being neglected.
Here is a link to Dr. Ed Tronick’s “Still Face Experiment”:
(I hasten to add that I would not have devised this as it seems quite cruel. However, as it has been conducted, here it is.)
(If you are interested in the attachment patterns of young children, please see the article on Attachment on this website. Further information can be found under “John Bowlby; Attachment Theory” and numerous publications since then.)
Can you imagine what it must be like for an infant to grow up in an environment so adverse that there never is a welcoming smile, never a positive word? And worse, where there is verbal and/or physical abuse? The consequences are far reaching and I think it is safe to say that the world for a child who grew up with an insecure attachment is different to that of a person who grew up securely attached.
If the immature nervous system of a growing baby wasn’t regulated by his/her parents, this results in a totally different way of being and feeling in the world from someone who was regulated, mirrored and validated and whose needs were met by their caregivers.
There also is the important issue of “meaning making”. We all need to make meaning of our surroundings for ourselves, or we feel out of control and overwhelmed by chaos or other random events. If a child isn’t helped to “make meaning” of their surroundings, they will make up an explanation for themselves which might continue to operate unconsciously long after the child has grown up.
In a nutshell, Transactional Analysis describes 4 “Life Positions”:
(For “you” read: The surrounding world and situations as well as a specific person or people.)
I am OK - You are OK. (Secure attachment, feeling positive about life.)
I am OK - You are NOT OK
I am NOT OK - You are OK
I am NOT OK - You are NOT OK
People with insecure attachments (which often stem from victimisation of some kind or other) are far more likely to adopt the position “I am NOT OK - You are/the world is NOT OK.” The world feels like an unsafe place - simply because experience has shown this to be so.
This is ingrained in our whole system and not a conscious choice.
Nobody likes feeling insecure, frightened of being victimised in the future, or suffering with low self-esteem.
To tell someone to “snap out of the victim position” simply doesn’t work. Nobody likes feeling horrible inside, feeling depressed or even suicidal. It’s not a conscious choice, it’s a result of a dysregulated nervous system and maladaptive processes in the brain, such as a hyper active amygdala which interprets the surrounding situations as unsafe when they actually are perfectly safe or a compromised reward system in the brain.
Furthermore, one symptom of trauma is feeling helpless and powerless to change anything - because this was true when the original trauma happened. It can be a BIG step to leave this behind and to even start entertaining the idea that yes, perhaps, I could be able to make a difference in my life. And even if our rational thinking tells us this is a possibility, our whole body system is an entirely different matter.
Sometimes, there also is a strong emotional tie to our abuser.
By the way, the phrase “stop playing the victim” can be used by bullies to try and distract from their own bad behaviour.
HOW CAN COUNSELLING HELP WITH THIS?
As long as someone is still living in a situation which is causing severe victimisation, such as domestic violence, the emphasis should be on finding somewhere safe to stay, for example, a Refuge or Safe House. Please never hesitate to involve the Police if you feel your safety is threatened.
Once in a relatively stable situation, we can work together on validating the past and that there is a good reason for feeling victimised. This usually goes hand in hand with an increase in self-confidence and feelings of growing self-empowerment. The more in control of our lives we feel, the more choices we have.
Then I can indeed decide that I no longer wish to “be the victim”.
If you are interested, please read my articles on Trauma and how our systems can change to help us feel safer in the world.